CHESTERFIELD, Va. -- A Richmond foster care service urged people interested in fostering to reach out as the organization reported a sharp decline in the number of inquiries amid the pandemic.
An analysis from United Methodist Family Services of Virginia showed inquiries to be down by 30% in the past six months, compared to the same time 2020.
"It's concerning," said Nancy Toscano, President of UMFS. "Without the foster families, we can't carry out our mission, which is to help kids find permanency as quickly as possible."
Toscano said at the start of the pandemic, they were expecting to see that downturn in the number of inquiries, but surprisingly did not. Until now.
"Throughout this past year, with all the stressors that are going on, you know, unemployment and virtual learning and, and all the other stresses throughout the pandemic, we think that that's what's causing the decline in parents stepping forward," Toscano said.
Toscano added that the need was high and had not changed with about 5,200 youth currently in Virginia foster care. Toscano said children who don’t get matched into foster families were often put in group homes.
"It delays the process of getting back to a permanent family. And that's, that's tragic actually," Toscano said. "We firmly believe that kids do best when fit with families."
Shona Lee and her 9-year-old son Lysander were one of those families.
"So, I have a seven-year-old and I have a 15-year-old and they are amazing," said Lee.
Three months ago, Lee said she took in two foster boys.
"Within a matter of a week, they're both calling me mom," Lee said.
Lee said the two were a wonderful addition to her household.
"We go skating, we go hiking, we go swimming, they love it," said Lee. "They get to experience things that they never got to experience before."
She added that her son, Lysander, had gained some new best friends.
"My fear was that he would pick up on bad habits, and it's been the complete opposite," Lee said. "I think he's realized as well that there are other kids who, you know, don't necessarily have all the things that he has, but he's willing to share the things that he does have."
Lee said she had a new purpose.
"It's kept my mind off the pandemic and more on okay, I'm focusing on this child and how he can be a better human being," Lee said.
She added that she was already seeing the impact on the children.
"The youngest one, he's starting to learn how to use his words and not get so frustrated easily. Because he's, you know, the situation that he came from was traumatic. So just constantly reminding him that you're safe here, you don't have to worry about that. I think that puts him at ease for sure."
Toscano said those are the kind of transformations that happen when a child is in a loving home.
She encouraged anyone who was able to care for a child, to reach out. Adding that a lot of people rule themselves out prematurely.
"We're not looking for a perfect person. We're looking for somebody who loves and cares about kids and can partner with us to get them what they need."
UMFS planned to hold information sessions to learn more about the process to become a foster parent. They urged anyone interested to sign up here.
As a foster mom of four years, Lee knows the impact that she's had on her foster children and the impact her foster children have had on her.
"If you have an inkling or feeling that this is something that you want to do either now or in the future, I say do it now," said Lee.
In the meantime, Jewish Family Services, a social service organization in Henrico, said the organization initially saw a decline in inquiries when the pandemic first began, but now were seeing an increase.
Chief Executive Officer, Wendy Kreuter, attributed that to recruitment changes the organization made due to the pandemic.
"The pandemic also taught us we needed to change our approach to finding foster parents and make it more personal," Kreuter wrote in an email. "It isn't enough to have general messages about the need for foster parents. It is about having conversations and relationships. It is about connecting families with the appropriate workers in the field. We have found online support groups about fostering have been one of our strongest recruitment tools along with our partnership with CBS 6."